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One of the best ways to learn about spirits (the ones we drink, not the metaphysical kind) is by tasting as much, and as often, as possible. And traveling to the distilleries where they’re made to understand the intricacies of the entire production process, from the harvesting of the raw material, to fermentation and distillation, is equally educational. Another path to becoming a spirits expert is by reading—a lot. With passionate imbibers having more access to information than ever before—both online, and in published books—the opportunities are virtually endless for learning; but wouldn’t it be all the more rewarding if all that time spent reading was going toward an accreditation? (We think so.)
Whether you’re interested in learning about one spirit in particular, such as whiskey, or are trying to build a strong foundational knowledge of spirits in general, we’ve curated a list of the best virtual classes worth taking to become an accredited spirits expert.
Located in the distilling epicenter of America, Kentucky, Moonshine University is best known for its best-in-class, six-day, in-person course on distilling; but they also offer an online two-session whiskey workshop led by Matt Strickland, the master distiller at Distillerie Cote des Saints. World whiskey enthusiasts who are interested in this course will learn all about the production processes of the various styles of whiskey (e.g. rye, single malt, bourbon, regional styles, etc.) and what the real differences are; as well as nuanced details, such as the chemical reactions that occur during maturation—the influences of climate, barrel type, and so on—and what factors influence the flavor in a whiskey at the various stages of production.
If you are a detail-oriented spirits enthusiast who enjoys the science, then Moonshine University is the best fit to further your knowledge on whiskey, distillation, and anything spirit-related for that matter.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
The WSET is a globally renowned provider of education and accreditations for wine and spirits professionals and enthusiasts. For spirits specifically, they offer three levels. The level one accreditation is perfect for beginners who are hoping to solidify their understanding of the various spirit categories, production methods, and the factors which influence flavors and aromas; and students who successfully pass the first level receive a WSET certificate and lapel pin. If you ever anticipate working in the spirits industry in any capacity, having this qualification in your back pocket will always be to your benefit; and if you just want to be able to hold your own in spirited conversations with friends and fellow enthusiasts, then the WSET will ensure you’re well-equipped on that front, too.
Edinburgh Whisky Academy
If you are a Scotch whisky lover, then the Edinburgh Whisky Academy (EWA) might just suit your fancy. Started in 2015, the academy is the only center for Scotch whisky education approved by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the executive non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government responsible for accrediting all educational qualifications in Scotland other than degrees. Those looking to remotely enhance their Scotch knowledge can opt for the Certificate in Scotch Whisky course, which includes a series of interactive exercises, videos, and pop quizzes that will leave you with a foundational understanding of the entire production process, from malt and grains, to maturation and bottling.
As the gin category in Britain has seen its stock grow substantially over the last five years, the EWA has also added a diploma in gin (sadly, only available in person) and gin school (available virtually) to their course offerings, should you want to dive into the nuances of botanicals and learn about gin’s rich history.
Originally created as a bartender training program for liquor powerhouse Pernod Ricard, BarSmarts has evolved into the bar industry’s leading online education program for both bartenders and enthusiasts alike. BarSmarts offers two programs: BarStarts, a beginner-level course that covers the production of both spirits and liqueurs, as well as some service essentials for industry bartenders (something that’s useful even as an enthusiast and helps you appreciate the bar experience even more). Their other program offering is BarSmarts, a comprehensive course that covers cocktail history, technique, and fundamentals; spirits production and history; and much more. If you love the art of cocktails and mixology as much as you love spirits, then BarSmarts is guaranteed to have you both tasting and mixing like a pro.
The Council of Whiskey Masters
Being a “master of whiskey” has a nice ring to it, and that alone is one reason to consider enrolling in one of the Council of Whiskey Masters’ courses; but, titles aside, prior to the founding of the CWM, there had been no global education and certification body or program dedicated to the wider beverage category of whiskey—establishing the accreditation as one of the best in the world.
The courses range from levels one through four, although only the first two levels are available online. Level one is broken up into two courses: one covering Scotch, and the other covering bourbon; then level two covers whiskey as a general category. If you want to pursue becoming a master, levels three and four include “Master of Scotch” and “Master of Whiskey,” in that order. Students can expect to learn everything that there is to know about whiskey, from regional style variances, to the various kinds of distillation and fermentation methods, and more. If you seriously intend to use your accreditation for professional purposes, the CWM is a good place to start.